“The Last Blockbuster,” a 2020 film on the last remaining Blockbuster store in Bend, Ore., just started streaming on Netflix a few days ago (at the time of me writing this review, it is #5 on Netflix’s trending list), prompting a few incorrect posts online speculating on how Netflix produced a film based on a competitor it killed off (while Netflix is streaming it right now, they did not produce it), which intrigued me. Even though Netflix had no hand in making this film, I do find it interesting that they decided to buy the streaming rights to it.
The Bend store is managed by Sandi Harding, a hardworking mom who has worked at the store for the past 15 years, and it is very much run by her and her family. Much of the film documents some of the day-to-day things she needs to do to keep the store running, from managing her family, to restocking the store’s shelves, to rummaging through old computer parts to keep the store’s antiquated computer system up and running, and the film documents when she finds out that her store is the last Blockbuster on Earth after the remaining locations in Alaska close, which bring a wave of celebrity and novelty to the store.
The film also tells the story of Blockbuster’s rise and fall, debunking the simplistic explanation that Netflix killed it off, relying off of interviews from former company executives and archive footage. While Blockbuster made a lot of wrong moves as Netflix was starting to emerge — including turning down an offer to buy them out for $50 million in 2000 — right before the financial crisis of 2008, they were starting to make some right moves, offering DVDs by mail and some limited on-demand content that could have very easily evolved into a competing Blockbuster streaming platform. But Blockbuster had a lot of debt from years of unsustainable business practices, and once the Great Recession struck, they were drowning financially with no life boat.
The film also has a lot of interviews from celebrities like Kevin Smith and Ron Funches, that talk about their experiences with Blockbuster, and describe the culture, which is fine. The issue is that there is just too much irrelevant celebrity commentary that could be taken out, and only serves to muddy the film’s narrative, which at its core is about the large cultural phenomenon that was Blockbuster, but also this little store in Bend, Ore., run by this family that has managed to hang on.
The best thing this documentary does is tell the story of Sandi Harding and her family, which I feel is really glossed over in the national news coverage of this store. Without a doubt without their hard work, the Bend store would not be open, and it is really admirable how they were able to keep the store alive before it got a sort of celebrity status as the last Blockbuster in the world.
I think there’s a lot of people who wouldn’t mind it if the store remained open indefinitely. It’s already a tourist attraction in Bend, and so long as it remains open, I think there are people out there who will visit it and keep it financially viable.
Only time will tell if its just a fad, or if it will sustain long-term tourism. But if it does, the current owner of the trademark, Dish Network, needs only let the store keep using the Blockbuster name for the store to continue operation. At this point, I think you can make the case that the store is something like a living museum.
The quality of the documentary is average, if a little unfocused. Still, if you can’t fly to Bend, and want something a little more deeper than most of the national coverage on the store, it’s worth a watch.
“The Last Blockbuster” gets a 7/10